Dennis Lehane

 

Prayers For Rain

Kenzie/Gennaro 5

 

I really enjoyed the first half of this book.

 

Spoilers.

 

Lehane can get the tone just right sometimes – that mix of humour with hardboiled mean streets. Much of this novel tools along very nicely, with able wisecracking dialogue greasing dangerous scenes we’d hate to experience any way but vicariously (although the constant exchange of banter/threats/put-downs does mean the voices are all rather similar – cops, P.I.’s, villains…). You could complain that the intensity of the breakup at the end of Gone, Baby, Gone means that Angie and Patrick’s reunion is a bit easy and low-key, but I reckon it actually fits this way. They know each other so well, they have so much history, I don’t think there’s a need to linger on some tortured emotional dialogue, and the understatement and near inevitability of the reconciliation works with the series arc and their relationship. And I’ll grant Lehane the fun predictability he has with, yet again, interrupting the climactic kiss at the last moment, a deliberate reference to a thousand movies and A Drink Before the War.

 

The unapologetic glorification of vigilantism is a bit hard to take: here violence simply *is* the answer, and guns are merely cool. I mean there’s room to explore this – you can make an argument that some people can’t be dealt with in any other way – but Lehane doesn’t allow much doubt in his heroes, so Bubba is painted as a loveable, eccentric, loyal, honourable badass – and the following exchange is meant to be lightly humourous:

Bubba said: “So this guy in the house, he did something heinous?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Bubba reached under his trench coat, pulled out a .22 and screwed on a silencer. “So, okay. Let’s go.”

“What?”

He looked at me. “Let’s just kick in the door and shoot him.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “You said he did something heinous. So, okay, let’s shoot him. Come on. It’ll be fun.”

Sure Bubba is a bit of a cartoon character, but he is given a lot more weight, positive weight, than this. And if you find yourself chuckling along with this sort of dialogue – where the due process of capital punishment is, “Yeah, I think so,” with that sense of justice cutting through all the red-tape, there is something a bit pernicious at play. These are the good guys, and they are too much like the bad guys without that being seen as a problem (nothing like, say, the moral ambiguity of ‘The Shield’). It was better, for example, when in popular media torture was seen as something only used by evil people – even during war you could actually have such a thing as ‘war-crimes’. I’m disturbed at how torture has become a mainstream heroic technique. I liked a line from ‘Dave’s’ amazon review saying that we like these characters, “…because an adolescent, nihilistic chamber of your mind responds to them…”. So much of this is about macho BS, everyone continually having to show how they are the bigger man, with seemingly no awareness that this method of comparison is actually belittles everyone who’s playing.

 

Taking deliberate fiction too seriously? Perhaps, but the Kenzie/Gennaro series – think of the immediately preceding book – does claim some realism alongside the over-the-top bits. It’s up to the reader to keep his head and realise what passes for heroism in this fantasy world wouldn’t always pass muster in the real one.

 

Oh, yeah, I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but then groaned and rolled my eyes when it looked like it was about to descend into the same disappointing mess as Darkness Take My Hand. Please, spare me from yet another omnipotent, omniscient villain. Ugh. I (somehow – never explained except that, ahem, he’s a super-villain – he’s given some mega-profile, well, both of them are, “He was a child prodigy chess champ,” “He was in military psych ops.”) know everything about everybody. I know where you are right now. And I’m a ninja. And I’m not going to just kill you (Batman/Mr. Bond), that would be too easy.

 

My rants about this are a recurring theme, I should probably make a page summarising my whining.

 

But, thank goodness, we only get a couple of chapters of this before (phew) some chinks appear in the amour, and you could even say the super-villain tag is a persona erected by the baddie/s to terrify and destabilise victims/opponents (whereas normally it’s unchallenged, least of all by the author). We get just a little more credibility (a little, but enough) back in plot, and no longer is the baddie essentially teleporting around the place. Still, this is an enduring weakness in Lehane, not trusting himself to be able to make an engaging story without granting godlike properties to villains.

 

I’m not sure about the twist at the end: if Kenzie’s worked it all out, and he’s such a smart player (although kudos to Lehane for letting him be surprised a couple of times through overconfidence), I see no reason for him revealing this to an enemy who is supposed to be preternaturally cunning and ruthless – why tip him off and show your hand? Well, why, apart from having a twist in the tail, but I reckon this would work much better as, say, a conversation he quietly has with Gennaro when she asks why he hasn’t stuck this case into the ‘closed’ file, and he quietly explains why he’ll revisit it once the parents are dead.

 

Still, apart from that dip in the middle Lehane has created another enjoyable ride, and is again a cut above a lot in this genre.

 

July 2013